Parent, agency owner champion changes in foster care system

Those involved in state system lay out gaps that need to be filled

SAN ANTONIO – The state's foster care system has been in the spotlight after some tough love from the federal government.

Gov. Greg Abbott just appointed former Texas Ranger leader Henry Whitman as the new commissioner of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. Whitman is already proposing big changes like paying CPS staff more fairly and increasing the number of foster homes so kids aren't sleeping in state offices.

People involved with the system are looking forward to those much needed changes.

Mary and Kristopher Levis spent five-and-a-half years in foster care.

"It felt horrible because I don't like moving place to place," Mary said.

"I was moving from house to house and changing schools in the middle of the school year," Kristopher said.

The two siblings and their older brother were separated because there weren't enough homes to fit them.

"Separated feels like I'm scared and, 'Am I going to see them again?'" Mary said.

Almost seven years ago, that scary separation ended.

"Always wanted to be a mom. Never been able to have children," said Dawn Levis.

Dawn and her husband adopted all three of them.

"I felt so happy that I'd be with a family that will actually take care of me and love me," Kristopher said. 

It was a dream come true for everyone involved, but Dawn said getting the kids was a process.

"You have to go through CPR. You have to do a home study, You have to get fingerprinted," she said.

She said training for foster and adoptive families is crucial. She hopes to see more of that in the future when changes are made.

"You need that support system all the way through, and there's a big gap there," Dawn said.

Many foster families get overwhelmed and give the children back. Sondra Ajasin is trying to change that with her company, TruLight 127 Ministries.

"That foster family feels very alone. They're not getting the support they need from the community," Ajasin said.

TruLight 127 is a lifeline to those families and it's also a licensed placing agency.

"We can place children in a home when they're needed. The state of Texas has a child placing license themselves but there are agencies all over Texas, and the state reaches out and says 'Hey do you have a home?'" she explains.

Ajasin's biggest problem with the system is that there are not near enough homes.

"We had an email come out yesterday about a little girl who slept two nights in the CPS office because they couldn't find her a home," Ajasin said.

Ajasin called it a statewide, crisis which is why change is absolutely necessary.

"Figuring out how to really increase recruiting and helping agencies to do that," she said.

However, Ajasin also emphasizes the need to recruit quality families that can handle the task. That's why she also hopes for a more in-depth screening process.

"Stop children from moving from home to home to home. The quality of homes has to be risen in Texas because that's going to stop a lot of damage to these children's hearts," she said.

Dawn knows exactly how tough it can be, but she said every second is worth it.

"They had three different failed adoptions. They were in five different placements. They were done, and I knew when they came home I was not ever letting go," she said about her children. "When you see that child that wraps their arms around you for the very first time, and they feel safe and go to sleep at night, how do you leave them? People are afraid to try."

The hope for both of these women is that more families will give fostering or adoption a try. They both know firsthand that it is life-changing.

Ajasin invites any families interested in fostering or adopting to call or visit her. To contact her or learn more about TruLight 127 Ministries, visit their website.

CPS and the Inter-Agency Foster Care Collaborative are also holding an event for interested families Saturday at Laurel Heights UMC at 227 West Woodlawn Ave. For questions about that event, call Gladys Blackwell at (210) 559-2696 or Christy Calahan at (210) 737-1212.

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